In this post, we will describe:
- What a keto diet is
- What is causing the worldwide obesity epidemic
- Why you need to think about starting a low carb diet
- What can you eat on a keto diet and what should you avoid
- Sample meal plans for one week to get you started
What is a keto diet?
What does keto mean? Keto is short for ketone, and a ketone is an energy source produced by your liver. You produce ketones when you don’t have enough insulin in your body to turn sugar (or glucose) into energy. As your body needs another energy source, your body uses fat instead. Your liver turns this fat into ketones, delivering them into your blood to be used by muscles and other tissues as a fuel source.
Your body generally uses two different fuels as sources of energy; glucose (sugar) and fats. Glucose is derived from carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, bread and pasta, and for most people accounts for the majority of our everyday energy needs. Glucose is found in our blood as a ready energy source and also as glycogen stored in muscles and liver. The other possible energy source is fat which tends to be used as a fuel source when the glucose and glycogen stores are used up, such as during exercise. Fat is then turned into free fatty acids and ketones to be used as an energy source.
A diet that is low in carbohydrate and uses fat as an energy source and puts the body into a state of ketosis and is termed a keto diet.
A keto diet can have many benefits as the body becomes a fat-burning machine using fat stores even when you are sleeping.
Keto vs Paleo vs Atkins
The principles of a low carb diet are not new; the paleo and Atkin’s diets are both similar to the keto diet. The basic idea is to have a low intake of carbohydrates, avoiding most carbohydrate foods such as sugar, processed junk food, bread, rice and pasta. As an alternative, you consume meat, eggs, fish, natural fats and most vegetables that grow above the ground; kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Vegetables that grow below the ground should be avoided as they tend to be higher in starch which is a carbohydrate.
Another big advantage of the keto diet is that it is gluten-free as it avoids grains in bread, cereals and pasta.
So, the keto diet is a supercharged, modern version of an old idea but with lots of positive benefits. These similar diets are popular because they work and are based on the way we used to eat food in the past. Eating refined carbohydrates and processed food is a modern trend and has been suggested as one of the causes of the increase in heart disease, obesity and cancers in recent times. add reference
Benefits of a keto diet
One of the key advantages of the keto diet is that people can lose weight without suffering from constant cravings for sweet foods and carbs seen with many other diets. There is no need to snack all the time anymore!
Long term health benefits
There have been many claims for the beneficial effects of a keto diet with several diseases, including preventing or treating certain cancers. One study suggested that keto diets could be used in conjunction with radiotherapy or chemotherapy as a complementary treatment. Ketogenic diets may selectively starve tumours, and slow tumour growth as these cells are dependant on glucose for growth.
Other studies have shown that there are beneficial effects for the heart by reducing the ‘bad’ low density (LDL) cholesterol and raising the ‘good’ high density (HDL) cholesterol.
Many diabetic patients have used low carb or keto diets to lose weight. In one study, 95% of the keto diet group were also able to reduce or stop their diabetes medication, compared to 62% in the higher-carb group. Blood sugar tends to stabilise as a result.
Improved energy levels
Many people report feeling more energised, with higher levels of mental clarity and alertness. In contrast, mood and energy swings that are found in high carb diets and are another significant benefit of keto diets.
It is fair to say that a keto diet is not just used as a one-off fix, as many people can enjoy it as a long term positive lifestyle change. It can give long-lasting health benefits, improve energy levels and reduce cravings for snack foods.
What can you eat on keto?
You are no doubt looking for a list of keto-friendly foods to help you understand what you can you eat on a keto diet. We have summarised below the common low carb food groups that are allowed on this diet.
- Meats: all red meats, steak, sausages, ham, bacon, chicken and turkey
- Fish and shellfish: fatty fish is better such as salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, prawns, shrimps and crab.
- Eggs: any kind of eggs but preferably organic or omega-3 rich eggs.
- Cheese: any unprocessed cheese; cheddar, goat, cream cheese, blue cheese, brie or mozzarella
- Cream and butter: Look for grass-fed when possible.
- Oils: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil
- Nuts and seeds: all nuts and seeds are fine; walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds
- Low-carb vegetables: those that grow above the ground; kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes
- Avocados: whole avocados and guacamole.
- Berries: small amounts of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are fine
- Condiments: salt, pepper, herbs and spices
Foods to avoid
The basic principle is to avoid all high carb and processed foods. The following foods should be avoided or reduced in a keto diet.
- Sugar rich foods: cakes, muffins, chocolate bars, fruit juices, ice cream, candy/sweets, smoothies
- Grains and starches: rice, pasta, cereals, bread, and wheat or oat-based products
- Fruit: avoid all fruit should except for small portions of berries such as blueberries and strawberries
- Beans and legumes: peas, kidney beans, peas, corn, lentils, chickpeas
- Vegetables: those that grow below ground; potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips
- Low-fat and diet foods: These types of food are highly processed and often high in carbs and sugars.
- Sauces: these may often contain sugar and unhealthy fats
- Unhealthy oils: Reduce use of processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, use walnut or sesame oil as salad dressings
- Alcohol: these often contain high levels of carbs; avoid beer, cocktails, mixers in alcoholic drinks
- Sugar-free and diet foods: these highly processed foods are often high in sugar alcohols, which may reduce ketone levels
- Milk: avoid or limit drinking milk as this contains sugars
Common problems with going keto
There are however downsides to the keto diet. Some people complain of being sick, which may include vomiting, fatigue and gastrointestinal upset. These symptoms are referred to as the keto flu but usually passes after a few days. Around 25% of people experience lethargy, as your body slowly runs out of its carbohydrate energy sources and switches over to fat-based energy. Symptoms can be reduced by drinking plenty of fluids, including green tea and organic coffee, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Why you should move to a low carb diet
Across the world, there is an obesity epidemic going on. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 1.9 billion or 39% of adults were overweight in 2016. The overall incidence of obesity has tripled between 1975 and 2016. The main cause of obesity is an imbalance between calories consumed and calories used in exercise and going about our everyday lives. But why is this occurring? We undoubtedly consume more energy-dense foods that are high in sugar and are hyper-palatable meaning they are potentially addictive, leading us to eat and drink sugar and starches many time a day along with more sedentary lifestyles.
It is predicted that one in two Americans may develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their life. The situation is no better in India and China; this a global issue not just a problem for the US and Europe.
What causes obesity?
When we eat sugars and starches, our blood sugar rises, and our bodies produce insulin to control the increase in blood sugar, but it also tells our bodies to store fat to use later. But we don’t then use up these fat stores as we consume more sugar in junk food and processed foods, and high starch foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes. We are therefore always in fat-storing, which leads to obesity unless we burn off this fat through regular exercise.
Now what we need to do is to get into a fat-burning mode, and this is where a low carb keto diet is beneficial. A keto diet uses fat as the primary energy source as we restrict our carb intake to around 20-50g a day. A reasonable amount of protein is also eaten to maintain healthy muscles and tissues. All of our tissues and organs can use fats as the primary energy source, so this is not a problem. Even the brain which usually uses glucose as its energy source can utilise fat broken down into ketones to give it the fuel it needs.
A ketotic or fat-burning state is usual for the body. If you exercise heavily say by running or cycling for an hour, you will be using your fats stores. But in a keto diet, you are using stored fat all the time as your energy source, even when you are sleeping. You will be a fat-burning machine which is great for weight loss!
Alongside this, you will feel energised and no longer crave for constant snacking and fast foods.
A typical keto diet plan
We have set out below a typical 7-day healthy menu for your first week of keto dieting. Remember to drink plenty of fluids; water, tea, or coffee but reduce the amount of milk used. The key points to remember are to avoid:
- Bread, pasta, rice
- Processed ready meals
- Sugary foods and snacks
- Most fruits
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with butter on a bed of lettuce or wilted spinach. You could also add some sliced avocado to this if you wish.
Snack: Sunflower seeds or a few slices of cheese
Lunch: Spinach salad with grilled salmon
Snack: Pecan, brazils or macadamia nuts
Dinner: Spicy cajun chicken breast or slices with cauliflower rice
Breakfast: Smoothie with almond milk, spinach, chia seeds and some protein powder
Snack: Celery and pepper strips plus a guacamole dip
Lunch: Tuna salad with tomatoes, feta cheese, olive oil, herbs
Snack: Roast beef and sliced cheese roll-ups
Dinner: Beef or pork meatballs with zucchini (courgette) noodles, topped with a cream sauce
Breakfast: Omelette with cheese, add spinach, mushrooms, broccoli etc. Bulletproof coffee – made from with butter and coconut oil
Snack: Full-fat Greek yoghurt with crushed nuts or seeds
Lunch: Grilled salmon with mixed leaf salad and tomato
Snack: A boiled egg with flax crackers and cheese
Dinner: Roast chicken with asparagus or broccoli
Breakfast: Two eggs fried in butter with avocado
Snack: Slices of cheese with bell peppers
Lunch: Grass-fed beef burger, no bun, with a green salad, tomato and guacamole
Snack: Sliced cheese and bell pepper slices
Dinner: Italian sausage, steamed or boiled broccoli, grated parmesan cheese
Breakfast: Fried eggs with bacon and wilted spinach
Snack: A handful of walnuts or almonds with a quarter cup of berries
Lunch: Chicken strips made with almond flour on a bed of greens or salads with goats cheese and cucumber
Snack: Celery sticks dipped in almond butter
Dinner: Baked tofu with broccoli, and peppers
Breakfast: Eggs baked in avocado cups
Snack: Kale chips
Lunch: Pesto chicken breast with mashed cauliflower
Snack: Meat-based bar (turkey or pork)
Dinner: Grilled beef kebabs with peppers and sautéed broccolini
Breakfast: Chocolate pancakes made with almond flour, chocolate protein powder with berries
Snack: Dried seaweed strips and cheese
Lunch: Salmon fish cakes with avocado and cream cheese sauce
Snack: Turkey jerky (look for no added sugars)
Dinner: Spicy beef curry made with coconut milk with cauliflower rice
I hope this gives some ideas for meal plans.